ValueClick Settles with FTC for $2.9 Million

ValueClick’s long-awaited settlement with the Federal Trade Commission has finally come to pass. The firm announced today it agreed to cough up $2.9 million to the commission as a result of the FTC’s investigation into lead generation ad practices alleged to have violated the CAN-SPAM and FTC Acts. The company also released its Q4 2007 and full year 2007 earnings today, noting net income for the fourth quarter ending December 31, 2007 was $18.1 million.

ValueClick recorded the $2.9 million charge related to the settlement in Q4 ’07. The settlement involved only past practices of ValueClick’s Hi-Speed Media division and no other practices or units, the firm said. During its earnings call, executives noted the settlement is “awaiting approval from the Department of Justice and the presiding court.”

As a result of the settlement, the firm must adopt new standards for disclosure on lead generation ad landing pages and in e-mail marketing copy. “We believe these standards will set guidelines for the entire industry,” said CEO Tom Vadnais. “It’s not going to take us much time to get fully up and running with them,” he added.

“The question is what will happen now that the FTC decision is behind us… and we just don’t know,” said Vadnais. He went on to add the impact of the settlement on ValueClick’s lead gen business and future revenues is “still somewhat in a preliminary state,” and somewhat dependent on approval of the settlement by the DOJ and presiding court.

The company cited strong growth in U.S. and U.K. display ad revenues in Q4 2007; however, that growth was tempered by a decline in lead generation ad dollars. The firm expects continued strength in display ad revenues in the coming year.

In addition, the company announced the resignation of Chief Administrative Officer Sam Paisley, who will depart as of March 2. Paisley will be joining local video ad firm Spot Runner as CFO.

According to ValueClick, executive chairman James Zarley will continue running corporate development while VP of Investor Relations Gary Fuges and Vadnais will continue handling the firm’s investor relations program. CFO John Pitstick will also join the investor relations team.

The fresh FTC settlement may draw renewed interest in ValueClick from acquisitive suitors, coming as it does against the backdrop of Microsoft’s recent bid for Yahoo and industry consolidation in general. ValueClick is the largest remaining independent ad network. Alluding to Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo, Vadnais said, “We really don’t see that it has much of an impact for us,” suggesting the potential acquisition deals primarily with paid search, which is outside of ValueClick’s business.

Still, many industry watchers have recognized Microsoft’s grab for Yahoo as one very much aimed at boosting both companies’ display ad businesses.

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